Planning and planting a homestead orchard is one way to increase your self-sufficiency and expand your homestead.
When we bought our new-to-us home last year, I knew that one of our 2021 goals would be to work on our homestead orchard. In our previous home, we didn’t have space to grow as many fruit trees as our family needs to sustain us, but this property has plenty of space.
I’m so ready, and I’m planning my homestead orchard with diligence and thoughtfulness.
A homestead orchard cannot easily be moved. If you decide you don’t like your veggie garden placement, you’ll move the beds next year. Once your fruit trees are placed and growing, moving an entire orchard is a lot more work.
Adding fruit trees to your homestead is an investment; high-quality trees range from $40 to 70. However, if you’re like me and want to produce as much of your family’s food as possible, fruits are a big part of that. Our kids love things like applesauce, apple butter, grape jelly, strawberry jam, and so many other delicious foods that come from fruit trees and bushes.
Now that we are in our forever location, it’s my goal to grow as much of this as I can at home. So, if you’re ready to plan your homestead orchard too, here are some tips I’m using.
When to Plant Fruit Trees
When we moved into our new home, I knew I had to figure out when I could plant fruit trees. Most people assume that you only can plant fruit trees in the spring, but that’s wrong! The best time to plant fruit trees is in the spring or the fall.
Either the spring or the fall works great for fruit trees. If you plant in the fall, your trees have plenty of time to establish their roots in the ground. That reduces the stress your trees feel from the cold weather as winter hits; you don’t want too much stress on your newly-transplanted trees.
Planting in the fall also means that you have to water less often than you do in the summer during all the hot weather. It also means that your trees are more acclimated to their home and already growing when spring hits.
On the other hand, spring planting is a great time. Your tree’s roots are even more established by the time that the cold weather hits. You’ll get to see some growth before fall and winter arrives.
6 Steps for Planning a Homestead Orchard
1. Check Your Garden Zone
Do you know your USDA gardening zone? Make sure you find out before you buy fruit trees!
That’s one reason that I like getting my fruit trees and bushes from Stark Bro’s. All you have to do is put in your zip code, and they’ll show you what plants grow well in your zone.
Not all online nurseries do this, so if you’re buying online instead of at a local place, make sure you know your zone ahead of time and pick accordingly.
2. Pick The Type of Fruit You Want to Grow
I think the biggest stumbling block I had when picking the best fruit trees for my homestead was deciding what types of fruits I wanted to grow. I end up wth analysis-paralysis and can’t figure out what I want!
Don’t end up like me; ask yourself some of these questions.
- What fruits do my family members and I enjoy eating the most?
- What ways do you want to preserve your fruits?
- What types of fruit grow well in your climate? If you live in a colder region, you can’t grow everything.
- How much space do you have available for the fruit trees?
- Do I need to have more than one tree for pollination purposes? Some fruit trees need two different varieties that bloom at the same time to pollinate the blossoms and produce fruits.
3. Find the Best Location on Your Property
Now, you’ve decided what fruits you can and want to grow, so you have to find the best location or locations on your property for fruit trees. Despite what you think, you don’t HAVE to make a classic orchard with lines of fruit trees; they can be placed randomly throughout your property.
Fruit trees grow best when placed somewhere with full sunlight and fertile, well-draining soil. There shouldn’t be close to any utility or power lines running close that might interfere with the growth of your trees. You also need to place the trees away from sewer lines, buildings, and sidewalks because their roots can uproot these and cause problems.
It’s a bit hard to imagine, but in a few years, these small trees will be much larger, so you have to plan like they are already at there full size.
That leads us to our next step when planning your homestead orchard…
4. Standard, Semi-Dwarf, or Dwarf Trees
Fruit trees come in three different sizes: standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf. This refers to the mature size of the tree. Each size has advantages and disadvantages, and when you’re planning a homestead orchard, you need to make this decision seriously.
Dwarf trees take a shorter period to mature, and standard trees take longer. Dwarf trees mature in 3-5 years, depending on the variety, and standard trees take 7- 10 years. Semi-dwarf trees are in the middle; they aren’t as fast as dwarf but don’t take as long as standard trees.
On the other hand, dwarf trees won’t produce fruit as long as standard trees will. By the time that your dwarf trees are at the end of their producing life, standard trees will still be thriving.
When planting all of your fruit trees, here are the recommended spacing, which should help you determine how many trees you can fit on your property at once.
- Dwarf Trees: 8-10 feet apart
- Semi-Dwarf Trees: 12-15 feet apart
- Standard Trees: 18-20 feet apart
One idea is to consider planting a mixture of fruit trees in your homestead orchard; this is what we are doing as we grow our homestead fruit tree collection. We are planting a few dwarf trees to give us a harvest earlier while we wait for the standard and semi-dwarf trees to produce for us.
5. Know Which Trees Are Self-Pollinating
Pollination matters for fruit trees as much as it does for plants like zucchini. When you’re planning a homestead orchard, you need to know which trees are self-pollinating and which require at least two trees on the property for cross-pollination.
Understanding this will affect how much space you need for your homestead orchard and the types of trees you want. If you pick trees that require cross-pollination, you have to account and plan for two spots to be taken up by those trees. For those with ample space, that’s not a problem, but if you don’t, you might want to stick self-pollinating trees.
6. Pick a Reputable Nursery
You might have a variety of reputable, high-quality garden nurseries near you, but if you don’t and need to source your fruit trees online, make sure you pick a reputable nursery. Not only do you want a nursery that has options you want t grow, but you want one that provides high-quality trees and bushes.
If you’re looking for fruit trees for your homestead orchard that are organically grown, then you will have to make sure you ask questions and research diligently. Reach out to their customer service and ask questions. Most are happy to answer questions, and if they refuse to answer, then you know you don’t want to purchase from them.
Start Your Orchard This Year
Don’t wait to start your homestead orchard! Since fruit trees take between 3 to 10 years to produce a full harvest, waiting to get started means you have to wait even longer for your delicious harvest of fruits.